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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Don't Be Too Quick to Throw Sticks and Stones to Discredit Whistleblowers

I don't know Andrew Tay from a bar of soap, but I graciously accepted his connection request and have sat back whilst he continuously attempts to discredit me by putting up comments like the one above. Now I'm not sure if Andrew thinks that these will somehow hurt or embarrass me into keeping my mouth shut about a cover-up in Singapore, but I have dealt with much worse and I am still here. My photographs have been doctored, vile letters have been sent to my husband and daughter at work, news stories have been tampered with to falsely show my family members as pedophiles and much more. My axe is sharp enough and no grinding is required but spare a thought for others who are just starting out on their perilous whistleblower journey. It really is unfair to make such assertions unless you know the full story.

Maybe Andrew is just ignorant, so to enlighten him and others who may follow my posts, here is a very quick Reader's Digest rundown of the background to my story.

Importantly, there was no investment loss as Andrew puts it. There was however a conspiracy to defraud using two DBS bank letters, an Allen & Gledhill option deed and the use of a CEO from another SGX listed entity. It was then during my research that I uncovered evidence that four signatures had been fixed to legal documents on behalf of a 'struck off' Bahamas entity. Signatures which were allegedly forged.

Due to the dubious nature of the DBS bank letters which had been used in the conspiracy to defraud, DBS Legal were asked by lawyers if the two DBS letters were authentic. DBS Legal took almost eight-weeks to refuse to authenticate the letters claiming banking secrecy obligations. During that delay, Singapore investors would be misled when Lionel Lee (Lee) an influential client of DBS, who was a Chairman and MD of SGX EZRA Holdings and Triyards, was to raise over $20M to purchase assets from an Australian company. Lee failed to disclose what the funds were to be used for, or that he held a claim to a beneficial interest in a shareholding of a company that he was to purchase the assets from. This shareholding would be entitled to 98% of any dividends declared by the seller. All this information was withheld from investors. DBS was aware of the transactions, and a MD of DBS Institutional Banking was described in an email as undertaking favours for Lee, if DBS was kept in the dark.

Allen & Gledhill was asked how many parties to the dubious transaction it represented and if the firm had drawn up the option deed used in the conspiracy to defraud for the associate of Lee, who was the CEO of another SGX listed entity. Allen & Gledhill would only confirm acting on behalf of Lee.

When the alleged forgeries which implicated Lee and his personal assistant were to be made public in a writ which had been served on two subsidiaries of an SGX listed entity, Lee offered A$3.5m to the authorised representative of the plaintiff and his associates if the undisclosed writ was withdrawn, evidence was handed over and letters of retraction of complaints made to his Audit Committee, DBS, SGX and many others were provided. Lee's companies would then be free to announce US$2 billion of proposed transactions. If the alleged forgeries and the misappropriation of shares had been made public, as they should have been, then the house of cards may have fallen sooner than it did, and the losses may have been much less.

When the Group did collapse shortly after, DBS alone faced a financial exposure to the Group of an estimated S$637m, OCBC $300m and UOB $166m. One cannot begin to imagine how much the losses of the creditors and shareholders amounted to. Although we know that Chiyoda and NYK had been forced to write down investments of over $300m and $115m respectively.

I asked two successive DBS Group Heads of Financial Crime and two successive PwC Partners in Charge of the DBS Audit to investigate the DBS letters and surrounding matters, all of whom would leave their roles. Maybe it was just coincidence, or something that I said! DBS Legal would later stipulate that a submission to the purported independent DBS whistleblower program could contain no reference to the DBS letters, otherwise the threat was that there would be no investigation.

Lee was legally represented at the time of the events by Allen & Gledhill, the law firm that had been headed up by the current Attorney General. Lee's lawyer was a PAP MP and is now a government minister. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) passed my complaint to the Commercial Affairs Division (CAD) of the Singapore Police, who 'assessed' for 18-months. Had it been an investigation there would have had to be a SGX announcement and then the can of worms would have been well and truly opened. During the 18-months it was alleged that CAD made no contact with Directors, Executives, or members of the management of the company involved of which Lee was Chairman, or the DBS MD Group Head of Financial Crime. So, I am not sure what CAD assessed if anything.

I reached out to the Attorney General to raise concerns about this 18-months assessment, he then confirmed his conflict and within a week of the matter being passed to the Deputy Attorney General, CAD would claim that it was case closed due to insufficient evidence. My online registered submission to the CPIB apparently disappeared due to a system upgrade.

When Asian Sentinel wrote an article about my story and reached out to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), Asian Sentinel was not told that it was case closed due to lack of evidence as I had been advised. The editor was advised that the PMO had corresponded directly with Ms. Julie O’Connor regarding her allegations and will continue to engage her as necessary. Having heard nothing further from the PMO, I once again wrote to the PM and CAD were instructed to review their earlier assessment. In effect ownself review ownself, much like DBS Legal dictating what information could be contained in a whistleblower submission, so that DBS Legal had no questions to answer.

Earlier this year, I was advised that CAD had sought advice from the Attorney General's Chambers, bearing in mind that there are senior parties who are conflicted in both the Attorney General's Chambers and the Ministry of Law. The finding once again would be that there was a lack of evidence to INVESTIGATE my complaints, which begs the questions why Lee forked out A$3.5m to hide the evidence and the contents of the writ.

Unbeknown to me and separate from my research, well respected NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen was researching the collapse of the group of companies headed up by Lee and he produced five detailed articles based purely on publicly available information, having no knowledge of the alleged forgeries, the use of DBS letters and the Allen & Gledhill option deed in the conspiracy to defraud, the writ and the hush money for it to be retracted etc. His conclusion from publicly available information included the following:

"There are serious questions relating to the disastrous EMAS-Chiyoda Subsea JV, and other questionable decisions such as those relating to Perisai Petroleum Teknologi, including the JV. That’s why I called them Dis-Joint Ventures.

Based purely on public information, there were arguably failure to disclose material information on a timely basis, false or misleading disclosures, failure to disclose interests in transactions, insider trading, and failure to discharge directors’ duties.

There are also questions as to whether contract wins announced by the companies and the secondary listing of EOL just fifteen months before it started reporting quarterly losses lured investors into buying notes, convertible bonds and shares of the companies."

It is unclear if company funds were used to pay off the authorised representative of the plaintiff, because there does appear to be a US$3.5m undisclosed related party transaction around the same time.

I feel that for Andrew or anyone else to suggest that I am grinding an axe over a loss of investment is disingenuous. I could have, and some say should have just taken the cut of the A$3.5m on offer in 2015 to sell my silence, then most of this would have remained under the carpet. The Prime Minister promises that cover-ups are not allowed in Singapore, and no-one is above the law, but unfortunately the Prime Minister and his colleagues can't be served a POFMA even if they were found to be spreading falsehoods which could mislead investors. Who knows how much more dirt is hidden. Perhaps this latest $1.8 billion money laundering scandal is just one of many, with others hidden under the carpet. I hope my story has shed some light on the 'system' at play.

The writing is on the wall that some of those involved in the above errant activities I described intend to push for another SGX IPO in 2024, and Singapore investors might once again find themselves up sh!t creek without a paddle due to impotent regulators, greedy financial institutions and some well-connected errant Directors. Who knows maybe Andrew, or his family members will find themselves a victim in the future, then perhaps he won't be so quick to shoot the next messenger he comes across!

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